FORMER Melbourne champion Garry Lyon has slammed the AFL for gifting Carlton five prime time matches in 2018.
The Blues were at the centre of the biggest surprise of the 2018 draw, awarded four Friday nights despite being belted by an average of 72 points in nine consecutive games dating back to Round 21, 2014.
Carlton has also been entrusted with the Thursday night season-opener against Richmond, meaning only the Tigers (eight), Adelaide and Sydney (both seven) were awarded more Thursday and Friday nights than this year’s 16th-placed outfit.
“If you’re a Carlton supporter you’d be a bit embarrassed … about the fact that your side, on the back of a developing year, is going to appear in four of the marquee Friday night games,” Lyon told SEN Breakfast.
“It’s a staggering, staggering situation that’s unfolded here.”
Carlton finished 16th last year, averaging 12 goals a game.
The Blues’ six Friday night games in 2015 resulted in hefty losses — 69 points, 75, 77, 60, 30 and 138 — and cost legendary coach Mick Malthouse his job.
“They have not improved anywhere near enough sufficiently to be on the big stage on four occasions on Friday night,” Lyon said.
“It’s the massive blue out of this and I know it’s hard … but you’ve ended up with Carlton on Friday night footy on four occasions and that ain’t right because the CEO of the AFL consistently has told us over the past two or three years ‘You must earn the right to play on Friday night’ that has been his message and I agree with it.”
On the flip side, Brendon Bolton’s battlers were confronted with seven six-day breaks, the second-most in the competition behind the Swans, and will also go interstate six times.
But after no Friday night games this year they have inexplicably vaulted back onto Broadway.
AFL fixturing boss Travis Auld conceded Carlton had one or two more Thursday and Friday night games than the league had anticipated, but said: “That’s how it rolls out sometimes”.
“It’s important that they honour that slot and play some competitive football and they’d be well aware of that.”
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan admitted the Blues could be sitting ducks if they reproduced their 2017 form, but was hopeful they were on the rise.
“I think there’s a vulnerability there,” McLachlan said.
“We’ve lost a bit of flexibility with the Anzac Day game being on a Wednesday and we’re playing the pre-match Anzac Day game on a Tuesday night with Melbourne and Richmond, that knocks on for a number of weeks.
“So I think Carlton is probably a bit of a standout to have the four Friday nights and the Thursday night … (but) the majority are pretty early (in the season).
“But I think we’ve seen in the last few years you don’t know where teams are going really, that’s the beauty of the fixture and the evenness of our competition in the last three years. Teams are up and down.
“There’s clearly a bit of risk in them if you took the end of 2017 (as a guide on their form next season), but I think Carlton are building a strong team and they’re well coached.”
Marketing company Repucom last year judged Friday night footy three times as valuable in terms of exposure for club sponsors as a Saturday night match.
But a repeat of Carlton’s disastrous 2015 season, in which viewers turned off on the Blues’ six Friday night fixtures, is the concern.
“If you actually work through them individually, they kick off the season on a Thursday night slot, they host Collingwood at the MCG, that’s a big game, and then they’re at Etihad against the Bulldogs, so three of those four (night games) are done by Round 11,” Auld said.
Auld said it was inevitable that some Thursday and Friday night games would fall flat.
“Certainly what you look for in those Thursday, Friday, Saturday night slots is good competitive, exciting games of football and so that’s what you’re hoping for. Over a season you’ll get one or two that don’t pan out as you would like,” he said.
“This year we had Sydney lose their first six and you wouldn’t have thought that going into the season. So who knows? It’s full of surprises.
“But whether it’s Carlton having one or two more (games), or maybe they do really well and one other team might not perform on a night, that’s the difficulty in getting a fixture together.”
The fixture release comes as the Blues continued their massive list overhaul, with the delistings of Blaine Boekhorst, Billie Smedts and Simon Whitemaking it 13 departures since season’s end.
PRIME TIME LADDER
Thursday/Friday night winners and losers
7: Adelaide, Sydney
5: Carlton, Geelong, Essendon, Western Bulldogs
3: Collingwood, St Kilda, Port Adelaide,
2: West Coast
1: GWS, Hawthorn, Melbourne,
0: Brisbane Lions, Fremantle, Gold Coast, North Melbourne